Expectations are stern taskmasters, aren’t they? Demanding we dream big if we want to be happy and then dragging us down when things don’t work out. In marriage, expectations require special days and special gifts and ramped-up hope of spending romantic time with our husbands, but 93.7% of the time, that isn’t what happens and resentment starts to build.
But even if we work hard to tame the big expectations for desperately-needed furniture, a new car, or pretty clothes, we still desire things from our spouse that might not have a price tag like kind words, a gentle disposition, and desperately-needed peace in our home. I’ve been at both extremes of the expectation spectrum. Trying to force my desires with disastrous results and foolishly insisting I have no expectations at all. Both extremes cause tears.
I’ve done a lot of weeping in my marriage. Confused and frustrated tears, angry and pitiful tears. Lofty tears that have bewailed the injustice of being married to a man who didn’t understand how things should be. Most of these tears would have never formed at all had I known my man better, understood what marriage was all about (it certainly isn’t to make me happy), and yielded to God from the start.
Welcome to Christian Wife 101
This series is meant for all wives, newly married and decades married, living the oft-times difficult journey of marriage who want to rediscover the blueprint for joy and peace that God made possible and laid out in His Word.
I’m in no way an expert on godly marriage nor am I a perfect wife—far from it. But thanks be to God’s merciful Spirit, He has taken my past mistakes and opened my eyes to how I was sabotaging my desires for a peaceful life. When we try to rewrite God’s design, we will fail every time. But, oh, that illuminating moment when we finally get it: only God’s way works!
Christian Wife 101 is about getting back to the basics of what God says marriage is. Getting back to what God says a “help meet” is. Christian Wife 101 is a study for wives who want to thrive (not merely survive) in their role as a Christian wife.
Expectation’s bitter seeds
Marriage causes sorrow when we expect it to fulfill our emptiness that only God can fill. When this man comes along, this knight, this hero, this new-found friend, and begins to fill the void, we mistakenly give him too much credit, too much responsibility. But he’s just a man who is silently weeping his own tears we cannot see on the surface of his handsomely gruff exterior and commanding stance.
Our husbands are not God. They cannot fill the bottomless pit of spiritual needs we have masquerading as emotional/physical needs we’ve worn forever like comfortable jeans. A husband needs us to need him, but we shouldn’t deify him. Yet, it’s so easy, isn’t it? He’s standing right there, ready and willing to rescue us from all our troubles and bear our burdens upon his broad shoulders. But our expectation of his abilities is too grand and skewed from reality.
Our marriage is awash in unfulfilled expectations like a garden that won’t grow. We walk down the aisle expecting it to be fully formed and arrayed in splendor like the rows of beads on our dress. Honeysuckle and hyacinth, tulip and rose. Cherry blossoms and baby’s breath. But in reality, our foundling marriage is a bare patch, a ready field. It’s fertile ground, but there’s nothing planted yet.
Marriage causes sorrow because we expect things to grow without the labor of sowing!
When you sow patience, forgiveness, selflessness, you sow long hours in the relentless sun. It’s not fun or glamorous and looks nothing like the pictures you’ve seen of smiling couples giddy with delight. You want your husband to behave a certain way, but he won’t. You want your marriage to look like your ideal, but it doesn’t. You strangle your chances for peace and harmony because your desires fall outside of God’s righteous order.
As discontented wives, we violently force things to fit our design but the square pegs of selfishness will never fit into the round holes of self-sacrifice and godly love. We destroy our harvest and wage wars in our homes because of our lust.
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. James 4:2
Our lust may not be sexual in nature, but anytime we want what’s outside the bounds that God set for us, that is lust. When you desire to steer your marriage yourself or manage your husband like you do your house, when you put your expectations for how things should be on an altar to worship, you’re lusting after a worldly lie that your happiness depends upon you and what you can control.
Stroll down the world’s wide-open paths of self-fulfillment and pick the fanciful flowers of what they say you are missing, and what you end up with is a badly-sprained heart and a handful of prickly weeds.
When you choose to sow through the pain and trust God’s way to produce the harvest you’ve always wanted in your marriage, you will see the fruit of patience and forgiveness you thought would never grow. This toiling in the sun might take years, even decades to reveal the blossoms. Under the decayed weeds of strife and contention, and the scattered detritus of specks and beams, thrusts the glorious blooms of peace, gentleness, and self-control, of unity and love unfeigned.
But you must actively work through the disappointment you feel regarding your marriage and your husband. Admit you are disappointed and ask yourself why. Ask God, the lover of your soul, the creator of your union with this man why you are discontent. He will reveal the disturbing truth that your mindset is flawed and that you need to bust through the stubborn hardpan of your resistance to His ways and grow. As you yield to God and respect the husband He gave you, God will reward you for your labor. Reaping joy happens after the hard work of sowing. You reap joy, dear wife, because you worked through the tears and didn’t give up.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Psalm 126:5
Within the fence of protection God has established is ground waiting for your hands to get dirty. For seeds you sow in the hot sun for a harvest of what you truly want from your husband and your marriage: understanding, gratitude, mercy, peace, and a love that never lets go.
Stop looking over the fence for the easy right now results and the fully-formed bouquets because they don’t exist; it’s just a charlatan’s trick. God waits to hear your words of trust and contrition. (This is how our square pegs change shape and slip into His righteous design for marriage.) You ask and the seeds you labored over for so long bloom for real.
So, whether your expectations are centered around an upcoming celebration, a long-awaited home improvement project, or the ongoing hope of a peaceful marriage, give them all to God with confidence, because He knows your heart better than you do and He will provide.
When you wait on God to fulfill your expectations, your faith grows mightier despite an imperfect husband and circumstances you can’t control. This is where God wants you. Released from the burden of your physical desires (where disappointment rules your heart) and set free to live contented under His perfect will. I’ve learned I’m happiest when I let go of the belief I desperately need something other than God to be fulfilled.
Yes, passionate kisses, candle-lit dinners, and the surprise bouquet behind my husband’s back are thrilling, but the biggest lift to this wife’s spirits is not in getting what she wants but in being close to God and knowing she is His. That’s where true joy lives.
My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. Psalm 62:5
But expectations never go away, do they? They peek eagerly around every corner of our hearts with puppy-dog eyes. We must choose how we let them come out.
Case in point: my anniversary is this month. There are no party plans, no dinner reservations, no overnight trips to exciting destinations. And I’m okay with it.
I used to eagerly anticipate our anniversary and other special days. I’d pile on expectations of what we would do, where we would go, and what I would wear. But rarely (actually, I think never) did it go the way I’d planned. Resentment—waiting to burst forth the moment of disappointment—would gush whiny, ungrateful thoughts in my head, sometimes tearfully spoken. My husband (surprise) got the brunt of this torrent. After all, if he really loved me, my foolish heart reasoned, he would have made it all happen.
I thank God that in His mercy He showed me that a husband and marriage do not exist to make a woman happy. They exist so we can learn to reflect the love of God’s Son in each other. We learn to forgive the speck (we so readily see) in our brother’s eye and not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. And we learn to give the sacrifice of a smile. (And some days, it surely is a sacrifice!)
When you yield to God’s vision of marriage, you can look into your husband’s eyes and see a cherished child of God, not someone who failed to keep the world spinning in your favor. You can melt into your husband’s open arms and know that what you feel is but a feather touch of Christ’s future embrace and accept it for what it is: one anguished soul reaching out to another saying I understand, my love. I’m right beside you.
I still want to delight in our day with an elegant dinner I don’t have to cook (and a pretty outfit, a weekend getaway, a brand new car, er sorry, I got carried away). Instead, I will delight in our day with a smile that relieves my husband of the burden of having to do something or be someone else in order for me to be happy, in order for me to love him. A smile that says: Thank you for being you. You are my gift.
Christian Wife 101
I will show my delight with a smile. A smile that relieves him of the burden of making me happy.
An Anniversary Ode
Another year has passed
Another layer wreaths, like tree rings, our collective life
And binds us to a better hope
than what our sapling hearts had known
Another year has passed
The thick and thin of want and loss
and hurling stones have left their mark, yet yielding to the wind
The breath of God has made us strong
Another year has passed
Where weeping’s work unfurls the truth
Of who we are
And Light reveals the core
(it is this way)
(we can go on)
And answers if the bonding’s worth the pain
(A million times the peace of God has whispered to us yes)
Another year has passed
We cannot tease the roots apart now even if we tried
like multitudes before us have (and since)
For lack of Living water wrecked the forest for the trees
With their singular desires
Like an oak, ‘tis true that godly love grows slow
But oh, if they had let it live how mighty they would be
For we have seen the fruits that waiting brings
Another year has passed, my dear
Another ring is forming
with thankfulness to live and learn and
reach the sky together
Only by the grace of God
We are one and better for it.
Abiding in the Vine,
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